Turn! Turn! Turn!: School Board Apologizes to Pete Seeger!

“To everything (turn, turn, turn)
To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time for every purpose, under heaven
A time to gain, a time to lose
A time to rend, a time to sew
A time to love, a time to hate
A time for peace, I swear its not too late”
Turn! Turn! Turn!
by Peter Seeger, adapted from the Book of Ecclesiastes.

This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender
Inscription on Pete Seeger’s banjo.

The Obama inauguration had an unexpected consequence this week as the San Diego School Board formally apologized to folk-singer Pete Seeger for attempting to force him to sign a loyalty oath nearly fifty years ago. 

banjoseeger1

 In May 1960, Seeger was scheduled to perform at Herbert Hoover High School. Already a controversial figure as a supporter of unions, civil rights, and racial justice, Seeger was anathema to the right-wingers on the San Diego School Board.

In addition, Seeger was facing federal charges for his 1957 refusal to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee: “I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, my philosophical or religious beliefs or my political beliefs, or how I voted in any election, or any of these private affairs.” Seeger told the committee. “I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this.” (Seeger was convicted of contempt in March 1961 and sentenced to 10 years in jail; an appeals court overturned his conviction a year later.)

The local chapter of the American Legion heard about the concert that Seeger was scheduled to give at Hoover High School and told the School Board to stop it.

The San Diego School Board then told Seeger that the concert would be cancelled unless he signed a statement saying that it would not promote communism or an overthrow of the government.

When Seeger refusal to sign the statement on First Amendment grounds, the School Board cancelled the concert. Seeger then got a court order allowing the concert to proceed.

Last month, San Diego School Board member Katherine Nakamura watched Pete Seeger perform Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” at the Lincoln Memorial during the Obama inauguration and decided to right the wrong that her predecessors had done to Seeger (and the Constitution) so many years ago.

On Tuesday, Nakamura introduced a resolution declaring that the School Board “deeply regrets its predecessors’ actions” and offering an apology to Seeger, whom it described as “one of our dearest national treasures.”

The apology resolution passed 5-0.

“It just seemed to me to be the right thing to do, and I had an opportunity to do it, “Nakamura said. “You don’t always get a chance to reflect on these things and the way they might have been or should have been.”

Nakamura and her colleagues on the San Diego School Board certainly deserve our praise for being inspired by Barack Obama’s inauguration to make amends to Peter Seeger.

Even more praise should go to the brave students of Hoover Senior High School’s Class of 1960 — who invited Seeger to perform at a time when an African-American President of the United States did not seem possible and people went to prison for on insisting on racial equality, workers’ rights, social justice, and the freedom of speech guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

Michael D. Fox

Michael received a B.A. degree in philosophy and literature, magna cum laude, from Queens College, and a J.D. with honors from the University of Wisconsin Law School, where he was an editor of the Wisconsin Law Review and a member of the Order of the Coif. He also received an M.F.A. and Ph.D. from the University of California, Irvine. Following law school, Michael served as law clerk to the Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, then as an appellate attorney with the National Labor Relations Board in Washington, D.C., and as a national staff counsel for the United Steelworkers Union. He has successfully briefed and argued numerous cases before the federal and state appellate courts. He has also taught communications, speech, acting, and dramatic literature at the University of California, Irvine, Long Beach City College, and the Laguna College of Art and Design. Among his publications are books and articles on topics ranging from economics, real estate and labor relations to Shakespeare, Samuel Beckett, and contemporary drama. As a theatre director, Michael has staged more than 50 plays. He is the founder and Artistic Director of Moving Target Theatre, which produces socially conscious plays in cooperation with activist organizations and presents them directly in the community. He is also a member of the Executive Board of the Democratic Party of California, president of The Duck Club Democrats, and has received an AFL-CIO Award for Meritorious Service for Commitment to Human Rights. Michael is married and has one son, one dog, two cats and five guitars. 

Tags: